Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blue Spring

I became an instant fan of Taiyo Matsumoto after reading his masterpiece, 'Tekkonkinkreet'. Needless to say, I wanted to read more of his work, but North American readers have few options since the majority of his catalog isn't licensed. I chose 'Blue Spring' as my second Taiyo Matsumoto manga, and as you will see in my review, it didn't quite live up to my first experience with his work.

'Blue Spring' is a series of short stories about high school delinquents. Bordering on surreal at times, there is not much of a linear narrative, and the stories are only connected by the setting. The dialogue between characters was often nonsensical, like two people talking about different things to each other at the same time, which while lending to the overall weirdness appeal to the book, didn't do it any favors as a whole. I personally wasn't blown away by any of these shorts, but carried by the interesting and odd art, they were often entertaining, comical, and disturbing at the same time.

The first short story "If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands" is about a group of delinquents, seemingly bored with life, aimlessly going about their days, and entertaining themselves with the dangerous "clapping game". Students get on the roof of the school and hang over the side of the building by the railing, feet on the ledge and hands on the railing. The object of the game is to clap as many times as you can without falling backwards. Main character, Kujo, breaks the long time record of seven claps, with eight. Friend of Kujo, Aoki, seemingly looks up to him, but Kujo doesn't want this, and tells him "Get off my jock. You can't rely on me for everything.". "Fuck you. I don't need you.". Kujo comes to find out later, that Aoki has died during the clapping game. Breaking Kujo's record by 4 claps, Aoki fell, clapping all the way to the ground and his death. I know it sounds disturbing, but reading this, I had the very same reaction to Aoki's feat than Kujo. I was impressed by his 12 claps and dedication for some strange reason. I guess I respected Aoki's ambition among a group of guys that are mostly wandering aimlessly through life, accepting their fate of nothing greater than being a delinquent.

Another story I liked was "Revolver". It's about a group of three who are left a gun and three bullets by a dying yakuza boss, who wants one of the three to succeed him. The three are first quite startled by the revolver, gun control being extremely strict in Japan, but soon decide to make use of the gift. The first bullet, they test fire as a loud train passes to see if it is real. The second bullet they sell to a fellow student and gun enthusiast. "One shot, 30,000 yen.". And after trying and failing to get more bullets to sell to the gun enthusiast, they use the third for a game of Russian Roulette, before getting rid of the gun in the ocean, seemingly refusing to succeed the yakuza boss. I found this story interesting for the lack of ambition that characters had. They had this opportunity to rise from petty criminals, to the big times, but rejected the idea. The reason I found the lack of ambition in this story attractive and not the first story, is because these characters seemed content with their lives and doing things their own way, while the characters in the first story seemed displeased with their lives, but afraid to do anything about it. That's just my personal interpretation on the matter though.

And finally, the last story of the book that I enjoyed was "This is Bad". It featured a younger boy, giddy at the thought of a girl who loves him, giggling away on his train ride home. A delinquent, seemingly annoyed by the boy's happiness, accosts him demanding to know what he is thinking. After kicking the delinquent off the train at a stop before he can get back on, the boy thinks he has escaped the confrontation free and clear, but he couldn't have been more wrong. The delinquent proceeds to chase down the train on foot, and pursues the boy all over the city, determined to kill him. The scenes depicting this chase are some of the best in the book, and I found them very cinematic. The delinquent's resilience and determination brought a much needed dose of comical entertainment to the book, and was a great way to round things off.

I think this book's main appeal is the art, though I am pretty confident that most casual manga readers will be turned off by it's weirdness before really taking it in. Taiyo Matsumoto's art style is very unique and unconventional. You won't find anything else like it. Especially licensed for English readers. That is why it is so awesome though. If you take the time to soak up his artwork and really appreciate all the chaotic and surreal imagery, you will have experienced something new and different from what you are used to, and I think it will broaden your art tastes, which is always a good thing. 

One minor annoyance I found with Viz's production of this book was that there is a ton of graffiti written in Japanese on almost every page. The editors add a translation note at the bottom of the page, which is great, but half way through the book, I got tired of stopping to read the foot notes and just skipped them. Stopping after each page to read the translations really ruins any story momentum that has been built up, and these being short stories, there isn't a lot of momentum to be had. You don't want to be taken out of the reading experience by pausing in between pages. Though from the ones I did read, the graffiti didn't exactly add a lot to the story or anything, and that's partially why I decided that it was okay to stop reading the translation notes. The only other option for the editor would be to redraw the graffiti in English, which would have been a lot more expensive, time consuming, and potentially ruin the original art, so I can understand why they did it the way they did. Like I said, it's just a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

'Blue Spring' is a series exclusively for mature readers, as noted by the "parental advisory" sticker on the cover, so I certainly don't recommend this for kids. But for adults who are tired of the same old mainstream manga that gets licensed, this book might be a welcome change of pace. If you like odd art and short stories, you also might be able to enjoy this book. Though I have to say, this manga isn't nearly as impressive as 'Tekkonkinkreet'(which I believe is a masterpiece, so 'Blue Spring' had a lot to live up to), nor is it a good introduction to Taiyo Matsumoto's work. At the risk of sounding unprofessional, and letting 'Tekkonkinkreet' highjack this review, my advice is to read 'Tekkonkinkreet' and then check out 'Blue Spring' if you liked it. I'd hate to recommend 'Blue Spring' fist, and have people miss out on 'Tekkonkinkreet' because they weren't impressed. That being said, I think you should check out both and inject some variety into your manga reading life.

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